As a college junior in the mid 1970's Steve Hassan found himself recruited into the Unification Church. They were a cult that was also known as the "Moonies." It did not take long for him to become convinced that Armageddon and World War III would soon begin. At the time when he first became involved with them he believed that the groups sole purpose was to save the earth.

In a February article published by CNN Steve Hassan said, ""It only took a few weeks to get me convinced that the Messiah was on the Earth, even though I'm Jewish." Hassan has published a book called "Combatting Cult Mind Control" in an effort to help others who may fall victim to a cult and find themselves in its membership.

In his own words to CNN Hassan describes how he used to be when he was an active member of the cult when he said, "I was an off-the-charts, fly-a-plane-into-the-World-Trade-Center-if-Father-ordered-you-to Moonie. I was sure they wouldn't be able to make me betray Father. I wanted to prove to my parents that I was not brainwashed or mind-controlled." The man who he refers to as father in his description of himself was not his own father, but instead he is referring to the cult leader Sun Myung Moon.

It was only after he reluctantly met with former members of the group that Steve Hassan began to leave the group. Today He is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in helping others like himself who have also parted ways with cults. It is his belief that anybody's mind can be controlled.

The concept of mind control or brainwashing which ever term a person prefers is one that is highly debated in the world of psychology. For every Steve Hassan who believes that anyone's mind can be controlled one can find an expert who would disagree and try to argue that the theory of mind control does not stand against science.

University of Reno Professor James T. Richardson told CNN, "every time I use the term, as you may have noticed, I usually put it in quotes, which means there's something wrong with it. It defines the person as a passive object that has no will of their own, and it defines anyone with any apparent perceived influence over them as some kind of evil person manipulating them psychologically." It is Richardson's contention that there is a certain element of choice on the subjects part who is being mind controlled.

The American Psychiatric Association disagrees with Richardson's point of view and in the DSM-5 attributes brain washing and mind control as possible root causes for dissociative disorder. Dissociative disorder can affect ones memory and sense of self.

It is Richardson's belief that the inclusion of this term in the DSM is a step backwards for the world of psychology since the term carries a lot of baggage.

The possible existence of mind control first came to America's attention back in the 1950s when several American POWs chose not to return to America after the Korean War came to an end. It did not take long for the term to start showing up more and more often everywhere that people looked. Over the years mind control and brainwashing has come to be used against whatever social group was not popular at that time. In the modern era we often see this term associated to supporters of President Trump and people who stand on the right. My own father once told my brother that I had been taken in by Nazi propaganda when he did not approve of an article that I had written.

After it first caught the attention of America this idea of mind control and brainwashing grew even more popular with the help of Hollywood when the film "The Manchurian Candidate" first hit theatres. Patty Hearst used the brainwashing defense when she was facing charges for crimes that she had committed after she joined a terrorist group. Originally she was sentenced to seven years in prison but her sentence was shortened to two years by President Jimmy Carter. Later on President Bill Clinton gave Patty Hearst a full presidential pardon.

When CNN spoke to Hassan about the Patty Hearst case he asked, "what was the chance Patty Hearst was going to become a bank robber without being violently kidnapped, thrown in the back of a car, put in a closet and mind-controlled for days and days?" Coincidentally, the same week that Hearst was kidnapped Steve Hassan joined the Moonies. He felt a certain connection to her as she was on the run from authorities and later stood trial for her crimes. Interestingly enough even Professor Richardson was in agreement with Steve Hassan when it came to Patty Hearst.

Psychologist Alexandra Stein didn't know the signs when she was being brainwashed. She had a secret life that nobody knew about. At just 26 years old she joined a cult in Minneapolis, Minnesota called the O. She didn't even know it was a cult. The group kept her sleep deprived and isolated from her family and friends. Her idea of a cult was Heaven's Gate. Some of you who are old enough may remember Heaven's Gate as that group of crazy people who believed there was a UFO behind the Hale Bopp comet. Someone forgot to tell those weirdos not to drink the kool aid. She was easily able to be manipulated by the group because she had just gotten out of a long term relationship before she got involved with the O. She was lost, confused, she felt the group had answers that she herself didn't have. This feeling made her more dependent upon them.

It is believed that some people are more susceptible to finding themselves taken in by groups. People who have had to endure abuse or neglect as a child, people who are experiencing a strained relationship with their family are most easily converted because they are emotionally vulnerable. At the wrong time in someone's life anyone could find themselves vulnerable and manipulated. We are all going to have hard times in our lives. It could be the death of a parent or the ending of a relationship. It doesn't matter who we are. There will always be points in our life when we are more vulnerable than other times which would make it easier for someone to manipulate us if we aren't careful.

Cults are not interested in people who are already mentally ill and unstable, because those are the kind of people who are hard to control. They target productive smart people who can work and donate money to their cause.

While talking to CNN Professor Richardson let it be known that he isn't denying that people can be manipulated and coerced. He uses the Nazi's as an example of this occurring. He describes what occurred in Nazi, Germany as a form of indoctrination. However, he doesn't believe that ex cult members are as passive as the term brainwashing might imply. In the 1970's people who joined cults may have been made vulnerable by their opposition to the war and fear of getting drafted.

Alexandra Stein on the other hand does not share Professor Richardson's sentiment. She felt that the proof of brainwashing is self evident. Stein questions, "how do you explain Heaven's Gate?" Richardson's answer to such a question is that sometimes people are looking for simple answers to complex issues.

In a direct quote from CNN Richardson said, "we just cannot except the fact that a person could make a ... decision, based on what they know of what's happening to them, to do something so unusual. We hit a blank wall."

Hassan on the other hand claims, "we can be programmed with specific mind control techniques and methods to shut off critical thinking, to have irrational fears or phobias implanted in our minds that take away our choices." He uses his clinical work to try to raise self awareness in other former cult members by having them remember their own cult experiences and research how other cults operate.

Stein was able to recover quickly when she left the cult in Minneapolis. She feels that her critical thinking came back almost immediately. It took longer for her to come to terms with the ten years that she had lost in the organization while reinterpreting what happened to her and getting her life straight again.

These groups completely isolate you. You have nothing outside these kind of groups. No job. No friends. No life. All you have is the group. Anyone who assumes that it can't happen to them just hasn't met the right cult yet.